Moving Forward

I wanted to do a broad overview of what’s on the agenda for Congress and the nation. The Bush administration left lots of problems unaddressed and neglected, so we’re looking at game changing policy making periods for many issues:

The Budget is moving forward after the Senate passed the budget on April 29. My understanding is that the bill was nonbinding and only meant to measure the support for the framework proposed by Obama.

Once the authorization process is complete they will move on to the appropriations process, and we’ll really start see the contours of the debate emerge. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about this from the Economic Justice team and other groups in the coming weeks.

[UPDATE by Jeremy: Yes all this is correct. Congress just passed the budget resolution, which sets the departmental guidelines but doesn’t contain any specifics. The meat will come from the twelve major appropriations bills. Click here for a useful primer on the federal budget process, including the budget reconciliation tool being discussed for health care and climate change legislation.]

Climate Change and Energy
The House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings this last week on the proposed Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill.

There was a lot of reporting on special interests jockeying for auction and cap exemptions, as well to determine which federal agencies oversee implementation of the eventual cap and trade program for certain industries.

The big picture analysis remains unchanged with the big Climate Change push still likely to be postponed until next year, little support for using budget reconciliation language to reduce the number of Senate votes necessary from 60 to 50, and not a lot of will power to stand up to special interests that want exemption, delays, and lax regulatory enforcement. I do think the current trajectory supports some limited implementation of carbon auction, but only after significant period of carbon permit giveaways.

The Obama energy plan, focusing on development of alternative fuels and energy efficiency, will probably be voted on this year.

Health care reform appears to have a lot more policymaker will power behind it, at all levels of government. There is also a stronger push from progressive lawmakers to make sure it’s the right kind of legislation.

Congressional and Administration leaders are committed to passing health care reform this year, and have indicated they will use budget reconciliation language, which means they will need only 50 votes in the Senate to pass the legislation.

Under the terms of the reconciliation deal, the 50-vote process kicks in if a health care measure isn’t passed by October 15th of this year. It’s a very messy process and should be avoided if possible, but the threat is important to spur more reluctant participants (and Bayh-esque direct obstructionists) to action.

Having a public plan option in the bill seems to be the primary sticking point. A variety of progressive Congressional leaders are indicating their support for a public option, and  moderate voices such as Ben Nelson and Arlen Specter are equally persistent in voicing their opposition.

Foreign Affairs

There is a lot going on in the world, but two things I wanted people to be aware of going forward are: the Obama Administration’s expressed desire to enact a two state solution for Israel and Palestine in the next four years, and the generally unstable situation in Pakistan. Presumably, our Pakistani delegation can keep us attuned to happenings on the latter front.

Both issues have a very good chance of popping up as major congressional issues before the next Presidential election.

DC Voting Rights
The Bill giving Eleanor Holmes Norton voting rights continues to be deadlocked after it was altered to strip away DC’s gun control laws. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what the next steps will be.


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